British Boxing in 2016: the Fights we want to see

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By Mark Whalley

  • British boxing has enjoyed a stellar 2015
  • A number of enticing all-British bouts could lie in store next year
  • The year will start with a potential thriller between Quigg and Frampton

2015 will go down as a fantastic year for British boxing at the top level: currently 12 British fighters hold versions of world titles (a murky landscape to be sure, but that’s another story for another time), which is a remarkable achievement in such a global sport.

But the year is at a close, so the question now is “what might 2016 have in store?” Here, we evaluate five of the biggest all-British contests at world level that would really whet the appetite:

Carl Frampton Vs Scott Quigg

The first thing to note here is that it’s actually happening! After literally years in the making, the prides of Belfast and Bury will finally meet, in Manchester in February. And whilst the build-up has been protracted (in fact since the rivalry began, Eddie Hearn has promoted both fighters at different times, unsurprisingly changing his mind about who would win), the duration has been justified by the fact that both are now world champions. This fight is now as big as it could probably be, so the time is right for it to happen.

It’ll be interesting to see how this permeates the public consciousness. Scott Quigg, despite featuring regularly on Sky Sports, is a relative unknown to the casual fan. Carl Frampton has more drawing power, with a fervent Belfast population behind him (boosted by his alliance with legend Barry McGuigan), but isn’t a true household name either. For the British boxing aficionado though, this is as good as it gets. There’s almost no chance that this fight won’t be great.

Kell Brook Vs Amir Khan

If Frampton/Quigg is the purist’s choice, Kell Brook vs Amir Khan is the box office smash. Think “Citizen Kane” vs “Mission Impossible”. Household names Brook and Khan have been flirting with each other for years. The fight is a guaranteed pay-per-view hit and would sell out Wembley stadium. And yet it remains unmade. It’s all rather underwhelming.

Khan has spent much for the past three years angling for a mega-fight with either Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, but the former has retired and the latter is recovering from a major shoulder injury. Indeed, there’s a real danger Amir will look back at his career and realise he’s wasted his peak years.

One accusation Khan has levelled at Brook is that Kell doesn’t have the status or drawing power to make this fight worth a lot of money. In winning and keeping the IBF Welterweight title, Brook has surely addressed that issue. There are only so many hoops Khan can ask his rival to jump through.

Both say they want it. Surely it’s more a question of “when”, not “if”. They need to get a move on though – a defeat for either in the interim would dampen the commercial potential of this one.

Chris Eubank Jnr Vs Billy Joe Saunders

The two middleweights first fought at the tail end of 2013, with Billy Joe Saunders edging a decision, having weathered a Chris Eubank storm in the closing rounds. Since then, both have grown, with Eubank continuing to improve and Saunders recently dethroning Andy Lee to become WBO world champion.

The somewhat peculiar nature of the first bout – Billy Joe clearly superior at the start, before losing the ascendency as the fight progressed – leaves a feeling of unfinished business between the two. It would sell tickets, and no doubt would entertain.

To add to the potential of this bout happening, there is the small matter of other options on the table. Few would be interested in a Saunders/Lee rematch, whilst big names like Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez might want to choose opponents who are simultaneously more lucrative and less dangerous than Billy Joe. Moreover, anybody willing to step into the ring with current middleweight king Gennady Golovkin needs their head examining. So Saunders will be looking at damaged brands like Daniel Geale and David Lemieux, or a big money rematch with Brighton’s second coming of Eubank.

Antony Joshua vs David Haye vs Tyson Fury

One thing is for sure: Tyson Fury’s surprise victory over Wladimir Klitchsko just made the heavyweight division fun again. In Fury and American KO-artist Deontay Wilder, we now have two outspoken, larger-than-life champions who possess the magic combination: they hit big, but demonstrate obvious flaws. In short, the most prestigious belts in boxing are there for the taking.

David Haye has been there before, but his career has never been the same since being on the receiving end of a Wladimir jab-fest. He has subsequently retired (twice), and pulled out of more fights than he’s actually participated in. And yet, his undeniable charisma and explosiveness means that his latest comeback is big news, even if you get the sense that it’s motivated more by financial hardship than a true desire to be great.

Meanwhile, Anthony Joshua has blown through each and every opponent to reach top 10 status. His latest victory, over Dillian Whyte, showed he can handle being on the receiving end of punches, as well as dealing with an opponent who doesn’t keel over at the first opportunity. It’s practically unfathomable to think that he won’t end up as a world title contender at the absolute minimum.

2016 might be a tad too soon for any of these three to meet, but it isn’t impossible. Haye is getting no younger, and will undoubtedly be agitating for these types of fights. With Fury publically refusing to fight him (retribution for Haye twice cancelling scheduled bouts between the two), and Joshua still gaining experience, a more obvious route to the top might be to target Wilder. Meanwhile, AJ might just consider himself a little too raw for Fury – perhaps eyeing 2017 as his breakthrough year at elite level.

And yet you never know. Money talks, and there is an absolute pile of it to be made by making Britain the domain of heavyweight boxing. Fury would be favourite against both of the other two right now, but Joshua/Haye would be a mouth-watering eliminator.

James DeGale vs George Groves vs Callum Smith

This year James DeGale fulfilled his immense promise by becoming the first boxer to win a gold medal for Great Britain then go on to win a world title as a professional. What’s more, his decision to travel to Lucien Bute’s backyard and successfully slug it out with a known puncher proved he has tremendous heart and indicated he could well remain on top for quite some time.

The only blot on his professional CV is a points loss to George Groves, and the animosity between the two is well-known and genuine. Therefore, on the face of things, it would make sense for the two to meet again.

However, Groves has had a wayward few years – changing trainers a number of times – and his latest defeat, to Badou Jack, has left more than a few observers wondering if he’s a busted flush at elite level. Furthermore, his unwillingness to give DeGale an immediate rematch a few years ago is likely to make the champ less than amenable to handing his long-time foe another opportunity of a big payday.

Callum “Mundo” Smith has risen through the ranks to become a contender at world level. The Liverpudlian is young, rangy, hard-hitting, and the way he dispatched Rocky Fielding inside a round this year was extremely impressive. He will fight for a world title sooner rather than later, and DeGale is there to be shot at.

It might make sense for Smith and Groves to meet first. Such a bout would be intriguing. A defeat for Groves would surely cement his position as a second-tier fighter, but if Smith could not overcome him then you would have to question his credentials as a world champ in waiting. If you’re looking for a career “crossroads” fight – a real risk/reward showdown – then this could well be it.

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